The Pros and Cons of Cleansing Hair with Baking Soda Shampoo


Getty Images / Design by Michela Buttignol

Let us guess: Whenever your hair feels lifeless or weighed down from product buildup, you try to remedy the issue with your usual shampoo or give your scalp a quick clean-up with dry shampoo. But on some occasions, the options in your shower just don't seem to do the trick (trust us, we've been there). If you're currently fighting this seemingly never-ending cycle, what you need is a clarifying cleanser or treatment. While most stylists recommend investing in a separate clarifying shampoo, it's tough justifying spending the money on a special shampoo that you only use occasionally. But what if we said you didn't have to? 

As it turns out, piling on the product isn't always the best way to handle hair that won't cooperate. The secret to a deep clean is an ingredient likely sitting in your pantry right now: baking soda. As a natural clarifying agent, baking soda for hair works to clean strands by gently removing buildup and giving the overall head a detox. But before you go washing your hair with baking soda, there are a few things to keep in mind. We tapped the experts to get some answers.

Meet the Expert

  • Brendan Camp, MD, is a double board-certified dermatologist based in New York.
  • Philip B is a hair and scalp expert as well as the founder of his own eponymous haircare line.

Check out how to make your own baking soda shampoo and the benefits it can have on your hair and scalp, below.

The Benefits of Washing Hair with Baking Soda

baking soda shampoo
Jessica Olah / Byrdie 

Using baking soda shampoo has many benefits. For one, baking soda contains no parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, diethanolamine, dyes, or fragrances like many shampoos on the market. Instead, it is made of a single, all-natural ingredient: sodium bicarbonate. "Baking soda is a basic substance that can neutralize acids, which is why it is useful for eliminating odors," says Camp. "Additionally, it can dissolve dirt and oil residue, and is a gentle abrasive that can act as an exfoliant." Unlike some hair products that leave a filmy buildup on the hair, baking soda clarifies and helps to keep your hair free of dandruff. And the best part? It's insanely affordable—a 16-ounce box costs less than a dollar.

How to Make Baking Soda Shampoo at Home

What You'll Need

  • Box of baking soda
  • Water
  • A bowl or recycled shampoo bottle
  • Essential oil (optional)
  • Apple cider vinegar rinse

The Steps

  1. Pour one part baking soda into a bowl.
  2. Mix in three to four parts water. (You can experiment to see what mixture and consistency you like best).
  3. If using essential oils for fragrance, add a few drops to the bowl.
  4. To use in the shower, wet your hair completely, turn off the water, and gently apply the baking soda mixture from root to tip.
  5. Let sit for one minute before rinsing it out with water.
  6. Finish with an apple cider vinegar rinse to try to restore the pH balance of your hair and scalp and to add shine to your strands.

When to Use Baking Soda on Hair

Both experts agree that baking soda shouldn't be used as a daily shampoo. "Baking soda has a pH of 8.1, making it slightly alkaline," says Philip B. "Ideally, hair should be 5.5 to be its best (think smooth, soft, glossy, bouncy, and shiny)—anything above is alkaline opening the cuticle, anything below is acidic." This means that while using baking soda as a shampoo can open the cuticle and strip the hair, it shouldn't be part of your everyday routine, as it can be highly abrasive.

If you're looking to adjust your colored hair, Philip B says that baking soda can be used as a "hair color scrub." "It should remain granular during use so it will help to open the hair cuticle, get to the cortex, and work like a scrub in the area where color pigments are stored," he explains. "The physical granular invasion will allow for some color to be released or stripped out of the hair, so if you are looking to eliminate a bit of color, this is an option."

Can You Use Baking Soda On All Hair Types and Textures?

Philip B recommends steering clear of baking soda if your hair skews dry. "It may leave both hair and scalp super dehydrated, dry, dull, and will make color fade out," he warns. "For dry hair, or someone with a build-up of sebum, products, summer beach residue, sweat, or sunscreen, I would first recommend they reach for a clarifying shampoo with key fatty acids of coconut, avocado, or a peppermint avocado scrub—this can, in fact, double as a cleanser without damage." 

And if your hair is limp, baking soda may offer up some benefits. Philip B notes that it can be used as the "grit" for someone who has super fine, limp hair that's looking to build up body, volume, and texture along with more versatility to hold styling in place. "It will basically function to stack the hair strands and make the hair more coarse, which is a better base for some hairstyles," he says.

Finally, Philip B says that for naturally curly hair, a clarifying product (versus baking soda) works best for "hair that is usually composed of more layers—sometimes twice as many layers. It also has a smaller diameter than other textures along with weaker internal bonds," he explains. "The combination of weaker bonds and more layers can lead to excessive damage, dryness, breaking, and stripping, so baking soda is usually not recommended."

The Risks

Those with sensitive or severely dry scalp should be weary of baking soda, as it can be too harsh and put you at risk of over-stripping the hair. Also, Camp doesn't recommend using baking soda for people with telogen effluvium (a condition characterized by excessive hair shedding) or those with an active infection or inflammatory skin disorder (such as psoriasis or eczema).

When applying to the scalp, scrub the mixture using gentle, light pressure, as the abrasive texture of the baking soda can cause irritation.

The Final Takeaway

For some hair types, baking soda can be a little too drying if overdone. And while baking soda shouldn't serve as a replacement for your everyday shampoo, it can be an effective weekly treatment or a natural alternative on days your hair calls for a cleanser.

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